West Health Institute Donates Technology to Northeastern University to Improve Autism Intervention


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SAN DIEGO, CA and BOSTON, MA – Nov. 20, 2015 – The Gary and Mary West Health Institute announced today it is donating technical and clinical assets of its autism research program to Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences, a leader in autism research, to improve its efforts to develop effective interventions for the disorder.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Research estimates more than 70 million people have been diagnosed with ASD. Current interventions for these children consists of many therapy types; most commonly, personalized training of social skills.

Since 2012, the West Health Institute’s autism research team has been investigating how interactive gaming technology like the Microsoft’s® Kinect can be used to supplement traditional, effective behavioral therapy to improve social interaction for children diagnosed with autism (WATCH VIDEO). This technology could potentially make therapy more accessible at a lower cost than traditional therapy.

“Our research in autism helps demonstrate the potential of interactive technologies like gaming platforms to deliver care and therapy in a completely new manner, at home, outside of healthcare facilities, where children and their families are more comfortable,” said Shelley Lyford, president and chief executive officer of the West Health Institute. “Donating our prototype technical and clinical assets to one of the nation’s leading universities for autism research gives it the greatest chance of improving access to high-quality behavioral therapy for the greatest number of patients.”

The West Health Institute conducted a feasibility study in collaboration with Rady Children’s Hospital to understand if children and their families could use the prototype software independently to help improve their social skills. Preliminary results from the initial pilot study showed that it was feasible to use this technology alone and in the home without a therapist, and that children were engaged and demonstrated learning from using the software.

“This initial research shows great promise for this technology, and has indicated that the behavior of children with autism can be improved through independent, interactive technologies,” said Dr. Matthew Goodwin, associate professor of personal health informatics at Northeastern. “We are excited about the opportunity to integrate this work with our own research. We hope to show that these types of technologies can deliver therapy to these children wherever they are.”

Last year, a report released by the Journal of the American Medical Association and funded by Autism Speaks revealed the staggering financial toll ASDs can have on families, with total lifetime costs ranging anywhere from $1.4 to $2.4 million. With 3.5 million people on the autism spectrum, these expenditures can amount to $236 billion every year, more than what the U.S. spent on veterans’ benefits, transportation and education in 2012.